I have compared indie sci-fi author Christopher Nuttall’s Ark Royal series to the beloved anime Space Battleship Yamato (which was released in North America as Star Blazers). In both stories a single refurbished battleship carried the fate of the human race against a nearly invincible alien invasion. Ark Royal was an interesting military science fiction series that took a modern (effectively secular British) interpretation of the 1970’s classic story. Add some Battlestar Galactica with one-third mixture of Robotech/Macross and you have the elements Nuttall used to bake up a solid and enjoyable fictional war.
The fourth book, Warspite, proved something exceptional about Christopher Nuttall that was not immediately apparent from his remix of previous fictions. Nuttall has amalgamated space battleship classics with enough rigor to own the resulting universe. Years after the original trilogy’s war, a new captain and ship will face new challenges.
What follows is one of my favorite delight in serial fiction, as Nuttall proves himself ready to play in the same league as, if he does not quite match the heart of David Weber’s early works, John Ringo, and the like.
Warspite is more than a mere continuance. One of my scholarly disciplines is archetypal criticism, and the inversions in the unfolding new epic make for a real treat. The old Ark Royal was an antique ship, outdated in a perfectly useful fashion with a rag-tag crew of outcasts. Warspite is a human-alien hybrid prototype, the cutting edge of technological lessons learned in the war. Ark Royal‘s commander was a half burned-out alcoholic who had to overcome his demons to lead his people into the fray. Warspite‘s new CO is a grieving homosexual ex-pilot, a bright and rising star who has to carry the weight of a crew of political appointees in a quick, easy assignment that goes rapidly south. The inversions continue as the two crews Shadow one another, but they reflect around a central axis of Nuttall’s enjoyable fiction. The characters are typical, but likable and understandable. It isn’t a crime to have stock characters, since the very nature of archetypes go back to the dawn of fiction in theater and religious lessons.
Nuttall provides solid secular adventure. His view of the military goes beyond the offerings of Hollywood and the BBC. I can really only name David Weber and Timothy Zahn as the other military SF writers who make as thorough an offering of multiple levels. Political conflicts trickle in from the upper nobility to the ramifications of a yeoman’s duties. Few of the fiction books written by actual military veterans, that have this fabric in the writing also manage to keep the wide-eyed sense of adventure that space opera needs to thrive. Few space operas have the detail work that Nuttall carries through in space travel, military logistics, and colonial economics.
Nuttall isn’t the best at any one aspect of genre fiction (that non-‘literature’ stuff that has been the vast majority of written and enjoyed works for the past two hundred years or so), but he continues to establish himself in the realm of up-and-coming indie authors whom I will pick up whenever they have something new and I have the price of a Happy Meal to spare.
Affordable, enjoyable, and solid, I recommend the Ark Royal series to anyone who enjoys military SF.
Finally, the take of a literary monk:
A quick comparison of Nuttall’s first four Ark Royal books and the first four Honor Harrington novels highlights the difference between American and British society over the past fifty years, where Britain abandoned God at the end of WWII and America in general waited until the first Clinton administration to go whole-hog-secular. Two generations of cultural drift away from our former common faith show through.
The differences are not always negative. If an American author offered a homosexual captain, it would be an active, brash, and probably obnoxious assault in the ongoing cultural conflict between the religious and the anti-theistic. Nuttall’s captain is neither transgressive nor pioneering. It’s simply a descriptor of his past, not a definition of his every waking moment, and his happiness and goals do not revolve around the nature of person he used to take to bed. That genuinely is a rare treat these days.
For all the bright spots, the innate futility and pessimism of the godless worldview, or perhaps it is more accurate to say a constant cast of the godless, carries its own weight through the tone of Nuttall’s otherwise excellent work. With no concept of grace or undeserved forgiveness, justice is a bleak and hopeless thing. The same proves true with victimization of the powerless. Without the hope of supernatural intervention, crises like rape, imprisonment, and conquest result in lifelong damage. Likewise, those who lose loved ones have no recourse for their grief, no hope of reunion. Those whose loved ones are not dead, but injured, are on the other side of that despair, where the universally accepted truth is they won’t have the strength of character or enduring emotional commitment to put the damaged relationships back together.
So it isn’t a big surprise that Nuttall’s world revolves largely around pornography and self-gratification for personal pursuits. I don’t object to the inclusion of Sin City, a lunar base dedicated to every illicit fashion to press your YES button over and over again. Indeed, I see it as the inevitable conclusion of the worldview. “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.”
This is not a puritanical judge-fest. I enjoy Nuttall’s fiction. I have bought four of his books and I will buy the next in this series. But I am glad that I have a hope for more, and the assurance of help for the troubles, injuries, and love for the journey. I’m also glad for the color and life that religion adds to cultures. Nuttall’s Russian culture is collectivist, secular, and frequently savage, but here in the real world Russian iconography, songwriting, classical music, dancing, and their churches are vital and beautiful additions to a culture rife with conquest and war.
I believe that the inherent optimism from faith, even from legalistic or liberal faiths that tend to view religions as socio-political constructs more than actual interactions with an invested divinity, colors plot and story. Weber’s Honor Harrington series starts off with political corruption, innovative space travel, and attempted victimization in On Basilisk Station, covers many of the same topics throughout the first ten-novel series, but they are dealt with in a much more hopeful tone. The prisoners of war aren’t just dehumanized property who cave in and give up. They band together, keep their morale, and emerge stronger than before. Back-woods planets become powerhouses, and though their faith undergoes change, it doesn’t just survive but becomes a source of power and adaptive drive for the Graysons.
So, I prefer it in my space opera not simply because I believe in it, but because I prefer optimism to pessimism, progressive improvement to nihilism, and idealism to hedonistic escapism.
I enjoy both series, but sometimes I come across something I really enjoy that reminds me how, even while I wait for the true joys of heaven, my faith and others’ brings joy and life to the daily experiences as well.